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1789

Washington leaves Mt. Vernon for his inauguration

On this day in 1789, newly elected President George Washington leaves his Mount Vernon, Virginia, home and heads for New York, where he is sworn in as the first American president.

Before leaving, Washington addressed a group of citizens in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, to whom he expressed his inner conflict at assuming the role of president. He admitted that he would have preferred to stay in retirement and wondered aloud, “at my age what possible advantages [could I gain] from public life?” However, disturbed by growing antagonism between the fledgling nation s political factions, Washington felt duty-bound to help resolve what he feared was an impending crisis. He recounted the day in his diary: “I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express.”

Washington was 57 years old when he took leave of his family, friends and staff at the Mount Vernon estate, to which he had retired after leading the Continental Army to victory in the Revolutionary War. On his way to New York, citizens flocked to see Washington as he rode through petal-strewn streets, under decorative triumphal arches and to the accompaniment of church bells. In Trenton, New Jersey, girls in white robes sang an honorary tribute to “The Defender of the Mothers, The Protector of the Daughters.” In his diary, Washington recorded a resplendent display of decorated ships and boats that joined the procession as it sailed across the Hudson River. “The roar of cannon, and the loud acclamations of the people which rent the skies, as I passed along the wharves, filled my mind with sensations as painful as they are pleasing.”

The pomp and splendor of the procession did not distract Washington from his anxiety about ruling the country, nor the disappointment of traveling without his beloved wife and closest confidante, Martha, who planned to meet him in New York after the festivities ended. In addition, his oldest and most trusted personal servant, Billy Lee, had to abandon Washington's entourage in Philadelphia due to painful arthritis in his knees. Eight days after leaving Mt. Vernon, Washington arrived in New York, where he gamely set out to “render service to my country with less hope of answering its expectations.”

Official inaugural ceremonies commenced on April 30.

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